thumbnail of On Assignment; 2006; Monuments To Failure: America's Prison Crisis
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Podcast of on assignment is locally funded by KNME viewer contributions and by a grant from the Mountain Bell Foundation. Tonight in a special on assignment production, guest host Tom Wicker, the respected New York Times columnist, narrates a major documentary look at America's prison crisis. It is an important and timely story. It is called Monuments to Failure. This special program was funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting through a grant from the Pacific Mountain Network Program Fund. The first time I was here, they had us packed in dormitories, double-bunked people just but you couldn't move around with this solid people, you just kept this churning all the
time. You can't take people anywhere, it's less violent people and just keep compressing them without worrying about some point you're going to get critical mass of what's going to explode. No society wants to face the failures it produces. So to me it is understandable that people don't take a closer look at the makeup of the people behind bars. I'm Tom Wicker.
This is a story about prisons in the United States, specifically about our state prison systems. They're mostly in the grip of a crisis so deep, so pervasive as to border on disaster. This happens to be the New Mexico maximum security prison just outside Santa Fe. The new look in prisons designed for riot control with the latest in high-tech security systems. It all is not well here or in other prisons like this, in growing numbers all over the nation. To the eye, there are far cry from the old Fortress prisons built in the 19th century or early in this one, made famous in Hollywood films of the thirties, places like California's San Quentin, but appearances deceive. New Mexico's new prison was erected out of the blood and rubble of one of the worst prison
riots in American history. Even now, the images linger in the minds of many Americans, February 2, 1980, shortly after midnight. Inmates in the grossly overcrowded and maladministered penitentiary of New Mexico seized control of the institution. Inside the walls, unspeakable carnage and bloodshed followed. 36 hours later, officials regained control, but 33 inmates were dead, murdered by their fellow inmates. The prison itself was a virtual ruin. Eight years earlier, in upstate New York, another historic uprising. Inside the 30-foot walls of the state prison at Attica, brought me a personal journey into the dark corridors of the so-called correction system. 5 a.m. September 13, where on the roof of Able Act, waiting for the assault to begin.
For several days in the late summer of 1971, I was part of a group of unofficial negotiators who tried, unsuccessfully as it turned out, to arrange a peaceful settlement between state officials and inmates rioting at Attica. When state troopers were ordered by Governor Nelson Rockefeller to storm the prison, 39 people, including 10 hostages, were killed in six minutes of indiscriminate gunfire. Could New Mexico have learned from Attica? Probably. Could other states learn from both Attica and New Mexico? Clearly. Have they, with few exceptions, evidently not? For reasons ranging from serious overcrowding to inadequate health, rehabilitation, and work programs, roughly two-thirds of the states are under some kind of federal court order
to make vast improvements in their prisons. To put it bluntly, federal judges across the nation have found that confinement in the great majority of our prisons amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. How did a society devoted to human rights fall into this situation? Part of the answer lies in political neglect and social indifference. Who cares about the outcast? You can't take us in here and treat us in human and treat us below substandard and then expect us to be nice people when we get back to the community because all that that's built up must be released. I haven't killed anybody. Sure I went out and I did something and I wrote checks and I got money for it and stuff. Is that the way you punish somebody that writes checks, you torture them, and then you put them back in society and say, okay, now you're going to be normal.
The issue of incarceration is everybody's business. It's not just my business. I wasn't born award. Daniel Vasquez, warden at California's San Quentin Prison. Our business is out of sight and out of mind and the only time it comes to mind is when there's an escape that causes a track's nationwide attention. Then the attention is focused on the prisons for just a short period of time. But we're a business that's out of sight and out of mind and it shouldn't be that way. Corrections has no constituency. It's a politically negative activity. You don't get more votes ever for having a good correction system. Minnesota Commissioner of Corrections, Orville Ponds, no governor, no legislator, I know off has ever run on the ticket of his or her or their good correctional system. It doesn't get any votes, nobody cares about it. A bad correctional system gets in the media because the media has a high interest for whatever reason, extremely high interest in prisons all over the United States.
They're fascinated by it. It's always good ink or it's always good tape, a prison. Hello, thanks, any press. Let me talk to Slim Mackey. Hello Slim. Chopping up your pencil I got a story for. People get this preconceived notion, man, the penitentiary is full of these animals and that's why they're there. Most of us never made the media. Some of us might have. Usually all you ever hear about are those sensational crimes where a guy goes out and raves and kills 10 or 20 people and they run into their voting polls and they pass laws, bad laws that affect 95 other guys who have nothing to do with that. Yet they're going to sit in here for most of their lives. I think there's a general fear and ignorance in the populace. There's no question about that. But I think that the media and politicians in particular could overcome that fear and ignorance very easily.
They could make a strong case that safe prisons are also economic prisons are also enlightened prisons. Beyond political neglect, Americans attitudes toward crime have toughened in recent years. State lawmakers around the country have responded with so-called anti-crime measures, including stiffer and less flexible sentencing laws that put more people behind bars for longer periods of time. It's called determinant sentencing. And that, of course, removes from the court any discretion to consider the facts surrounding that person's criminal activity. New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Mary Waters. As a result, everybody goes to prison. Some of them have mandatory additional sentencing if there were firearms involved. So in addition to the basic sentence, the courts are required to add the additional enhanced
sentence. My thought has always been that all you need for that sort of disposition is a kind of a cash register up on the judge's desk and he punches in the crime. And he looks to see whether it's a first or a fourth degree felony and he punches the next button and then up pops the sentence. And that individual is sentenced according to that mechanical means. In New Mexico, if I go out and I enjoy riding your car, that's a felony and I get time for it. But I'm convicted of a felony. Then if I get arrested for writing a check, I'm a habitual criminal under the laws in New Mexico, which can get me extra time. Even though the crime that happened was a non-violent crime, that it might have been a very petty crime, it's the felony conviction.
It doesn't say whether it was a murder felony or a nothing felony. It's a felony, therefore it's worth more time yet. I might have already done that time completely, discharged it, paid my debt in full. I will be made to pay again later. If the man must go to prison, sentences have become longer because of the this perception of the way of handling it, and the people going to prison are going in greater numbers every day of every month, of every year. And the persons who are already there are not being released, which they cannot be under the determinant sentencing basis. What is left but overcrowding? Minnesota. It has one of the nation's lowest crime rates, one of the lowest per capita imprisonment
rates in the nation. And something almost unheard of these days, more prison space than it needs. It has done so with policies from rational sentencing to keeping adult and juvenile offenders in the community, rather than casting them out of it and into prison. Deborah Daley is the director of Minnesota's Senate Singh Guidelines Commission. The movement first was toward a system that would be more strictly determinate, that is the legislature would by statute define what sentences should be. And that would be more mandatory, more determinate type of sentencing. But those that were still highly in favor of the indeterminate system fought with that notion of going to a strict determinant system, which would remove all the discretion from the judicial branch and essentially from the executive branch, meaning the parole board and putting it all in the hands of a legislator by defining what the sentence should be.
So the compromise was sentencing guidelines. Because with sentencing guidelines, you could provide a more determinate sentence, that is you would have a structure that would define what the presumed sentence should be for the typical case. At the same time, you would provide some flexibility for judges to sentence apart from those prescribed sentences when the circumstances just did not seem to fit with the typical case. I'm impressed with the guidelines that have been said in Minnesota. What I think is admirable about it is that it is considered to be a guideline. And there are a number of factors that may be taken into consideration for any single crime in the manner in which the individual is sentenced. And the judge may depart from the guidelines if in his judgment there are circumstances which would warrant departure.
But it removes the rigidity with which most states now operate because of legislative enactments. And of course, the courts recognize that it is within the power of the legislature to determine what the sentencing should be. Today, more than a half million people are behind bars in this country, nearly 70 percent more than just 10 years ago. In state after state, multi-billion dollar prison construction programs have been the result. California leads the way with more than two billion dollars in construction that will add 14,000 new beds to its prison system. Another $850 million prison bond issue may go before California voters in June. Some people belong in the Penitentiary plain and simple. If we don't have enough Penitentiaries, then we ought to build enough Penitentiaries.
Los Angeles County District Attorney, Ira Reiner. There are people who are violent criminals that we ought to forget about trying to rehabilitate them. All we ought to do is put them in the Penitentiary for so long that by the time they get out, they're no longer a threat to anybody. If that means just warehousing them, then so be it. I guess somebody has to do it, and I think it's certainly needed to be done going back a number of years before I got heavily involved in prison system legislation. I was very involved in anti-crime legislation, and I did my bit about increasing sentences and assuring that criminals went to jail and stayed there a long time. So it seems to me then the responsible thing to do if you're going to do that, then it's to build a prison system to hold them. State Senator Robert Presley is perhaps the key legislative architect of California's massive prison construction program. We have been in California at least in a very strong building mode for the last six,
eight, ten years, and as far as we can tell in the future, that looks like that's going to continue. The media said the problem is to get these criminals off the street and get them locked up. And I think that's what the people want, and you even hardly argue with that. If that's your crisis, that's what you have to deal with. But overcrowding persists in that state and elsewhere. Designed to accommodate 38,000 inmates, California's prisons now warehouse nearly 60,000. Michael Satris is a leading California advocate of prison reform. It's easy to say we should be hard on criminals and I'm tough on crime and I'm going to put more people in prison and I'm going to build more prisons in order to do it as a way to gain public office because nobody objects to that. You know what they build new prisons and they fill all them up and they still slip about the overcrowding. You know, where's it going to end? They're going to keep building to keep building till this is one big prison, California.
In Texas, historically notorious for neglecting its prisons and its prisoners, the number of inmates has increased 112 percent in six years. But despite $607 million in construction, the capacity of prisons in Texas has increased only 50 percent. Several years ago, Texas had the questionable distinction of being the third largest prison in the world, I think only behind the Soviet Union and perhaps South Africa. Now we are behind California, which has had the fastest growing prison system because of a law dealing with determinant sinencing, very politically popular. We still have a large prison, but Texas is one of the larger states. We have to make some important decisions on money. But Texas Governor William Clements says he speaks for Texans on corrections issues. The people of Texas today are strong, strong, strong, and every survey ever poll that I've
seen over the past two or three years, and I'm talking about like 70 percent of the people say, we want those criminals in prison where they belong and we want them kept there and we're not in favor of an early release program. Now that's the way the people of Texas feel. Texas State Senator Ray Farabey has played a key role in the Lone Star State's prison construction program, but Farabey sees limits. Well, I think California is now terrified because of the cost of operating these many prisons that they have put into place, and I think that's going to happen in Texas and happen in other states that try to solve the problem just by adding more prison beds. Now, that's not to say we shouldn't add prison beds. We are adding them in Texas and many states are, but we have to look to alternatives. We have to apply the same economic conservatism that many of the very people who say Bill
Moore prisons, this is the answer. They talk conservative about other issues, but we need to apply conservatism across the board if that term really means anything anymore and say, hey, is there a more efficient way of handling this offender or that offender? But Governor Clements doesn't buy the Farabey view. You know, I speak for the Governor's office and he speaks for his opinion in the Senate. Now you say, well, it's costly. What certainly it's costly, but it also has to do with the reordering of your priorities. We can't have it both ways. Construction costs are only part of the story. California currently spends $2 billion annually to operate its correction system. More than $17,000, simply to keep one inmate behind bars for one year. Texas spends nearly half a billion dollars on corrections efforts every year, about $14,000
per inmate. Nevertheless, the courts still hold that state's prisons unconstitutionally inhumane. Even in a poor, sparsely populated state, such as New Mexico, prison costs are sky high, nearly $23,000 per inmate per year. An annual operating total of nearly $85 million dollars. Prison costs in short are staggering, especially for so little return in decreasing crime. Even those who support more prison construction wonder how much longer tax and ratepayers will stand for it. The money to build prisons doesn't come from heaven, it comes from Texas, so the public is concerned with getting criminals off the street, violent criminals in particular and putting them in penitentiary. But wanting them off the street in the penitentiary is one thing, being prepared to come to grips with the fact that you're going to have to pay for it, that is, you're going to have
to construct additional prisons, and that means taxes, that's a harder sell. Projections are either by something like 1995, instead of having 65,000 inmates in custody as we do today, we will have something like 90,000, and it's costing us at the moment about 17, 18,000 dollars per year to keep those people in. So it's becoming almost prohibitively expensive. This year, for the first day, the state of California has to take money away from the budgets of education, human services, welfare, and health in order to be able to pay for the tremendous correctional budget, which, in the last eight years, has increased by 22%. Jan Marinison of the American Friends Criminal Justice Commission, a Quaker organization, is a leading advocate of prison reform.
So what we see now is a rapid expansion of the construction of more prisons and jails, and the budgetary effixes that we robbed the schoolhouse to pay for the jailhouse. There's an old philosopher who is quoted as saying that you can judge the civility of a society by looking at its prisons, I think that probably has never been better said. George Sullivan is one of America's most respected corrections professionals. When the taxpayer is actually aware that the school being provided for our children, the quality of education being provided for our youngsters, is diminished or placed into the balance of needing also to fund prisons. When that realization is clear to all of our taxpayers, that will force the new decision, the new decision being, let us not spend money for prisons beyond that, which we must
spend to protect ourselves. Let's get out of the business of locking people up just because somebody wants them locked up. I suspect that that will happen. I don't hear that much yet. I think people, for the most part, still feel that they want them locked up and they're willing to pay the price. While taxpayers and the legislators who represent them worry about the monumental costs of our prisons, pressures to bill more continue. Those bring jobs to local communities. As the constituents of Texas State Senator Ray Farahby know. We have 30 counties, I've got 14 or 15 counties that are lobbying me for a prison because they want to see it as economic development. That's fine up to a point, but we have to keep our mind on the ultimate figures that it's not just building a prison, it's not just providing an economic stimulus to an area that might have some problem because of loss of industry or higher unemployment rate. But finally, we have to pay for this, and if we have to take all of our resources and
put it into one place, then we may be exacerbating the problem. Not to mention increasing the costs of prison operations. About $23,000 New Mexico spends to imprison someone for a year reflect that reality. In 1984, New Mexico opened its new women's prison in the economically depressed community of grants. Local residents and their state legislators welcomed the boost to the area's economy. The prison brought jobs, but the price of corrections operations scattered about any state, some far from urban facilities are high. Mary Carruthers, the governor of New Mexico. But additionally, on and above the cost, we also penalized by distributing these prison systems around the state. We also penalized the prison inmates occasionally. For example, in some communities, there's no prospect for a job release to go out and
do some things. If you build some of these prisons in communities that already have 10, 15, and 20, and 30 percent unemployment. The prospects of hiring an inmate in that community as opposed to someone who has already unemployed is pretty bleak. We really have lacked a fundamental policy in corrections from a period dating long before the riot. But even in these fateful seven years since that catastrophe, we have not come to grips with an integrated and coherent policy statewide. Roger Morris, the author of the Devil's Butcher Shop, a compelling account of that state's infamous prison riot. We've decided where to place prisons, when to build them, how large to make them, who to put in them, very largely in terms of the political advantages to be accrued from what region of the state it was placed in in terms of who benefits in the legislature and all the rest. That's simply a shameful anachronism that we can no longer afford in corrections policy. We've got to make those decisions in terms of enlightened penal policy, not economic development,
or which corrections, after all, is hardly a viable substitute. As prison costs have risen, the idea of privatization appeals to some politicians. States would lease privately owned and operated prisons. Some say they would save money. A privatization is fairly new to us when we speak about prisons, but there are successes around. There are no major systems under privatization, but I understand one state now has agreed to, I think, let the private sector build three major prison systems. Most of the successes are found in the southeastern part of the country, and very recently appointed by President Reagan to his 13-member commission on privatization, this is one of the issues I want to pursue. I want to seek from around the country those kinds of experiences that would lend to good public policy in the state. I think that we'll discover that the successes lately have been significant enough to recommend it to our state legislature.
I have very real reservations about this hype, if that's a good term for it, that has to do with privatization of prisons. It's a vastly overstated proposition, if you will, in my opinion. We in Texas are proceeding with the utmost caution, and with great care, and certainly we're not considering anything other than minimum security facilities. I think that when you move up the spectrum, and you get into either moderate facilities or maximum security, that is fundamentally a state responsibility, and I do not believe that the private sector has a proper role in that kind of endeavor. Well first of all, I put that in perspective, privatization is nothing really new. San Quentin Prison, which is the oldest prison in the state of California, and if I'm not
mistaken, might be pretty close to the oldest prison in the nation, started out in the premise of privatization. I don't know what they called it back there, and that in light period, maybe they called it something else, maybe it didn't call it privatization, but it didn't work then. And is it best a very embryonic art being done on a very small scale in this country? So to hold it out as a panacea for the problems that we now face, I don't think it's realistic at all. It would take a very long time, an enormous investment of funds, would make us hostage as all privatization schemes do to a whole new set of managers and bureaucrats, and a whole new array of costs I might add that the taxpayers are, I think, are going to find where their owner is. In incarceration, citizens of the United States is a constitutional issue and doesn't belong in the corporate board decision-making realm. It's a constitutional issue.
Marcus Prisons are a growing, if costly business. As the bills come to you, taxpayers and politicians alike begin to wonder, are these expensive institutions working? Are they accomplishing promised objectives, deterring crime, reducing crime rates, rehabilitating offenders? Or are they simply human warehouses and schools of criminal instruction out of the public side, so out of the public's mind? Prisons are statistically inconsequential. We serve as no deterrent. I have never talked to an inmate in my 33 years in this business who thought for one moment he would get caught. If the possibility of getting caught occurred to him, he certainly did not go to the next level of assuming for a moment that he would be prosecuted or would be found guilty or certainly that he would ever wind up in prison.
Inmates, criminals know that the likelihood of them going to prison for committing a felony crime at best is about one in a hundred. So if that's true and it's documented as truth in every state in our land, our people need to know that. They need to know that prisons have no substantial role to play. This should be the last thing you do when you need to be prison, because once you send them here, he's not afraid of prison. You don't have nothing, there's nothing you can do to him besides killing, to stop him from doing whatever he wants to do. If he survives this and it goes back out into your society, what can you threaten him with? I'm going to send you a prison, that's all right. I've been there for my friends and there. It has been said for at least 50 years that I know that prison institutions are merely schools for crime and I don't think it's changed and the opportunity is getting better to make criminal students out of penitentiary inmates. Plainly something is not working, recidivism rates are high. According to federal estimates,
70% of those released from prison will be behind bars again within five years. And something has to be done about that. There is more crime, it is much more violent, and the people that are involved in this violent crime, by and large are recidivists, that is they repeat their crimes over and over. And the only effective way to deal with these people in the short run, that means right now, is to put them in jail and keep them there. When they're released from prison, they certainly are no less of a threat to the public than before they went in. They're more of a threat because they've become invitered, they've become exposed to the violence that you do see in the prison system and it becomes a very much of a vicious cycle in terms of trying to break it. Because everybody's coming out of prison. You go to prison for 18 months or 24 months, you're coming out. The national average in prison must run today somewhere around 22 months. So these people are the people that you're walking down the street with and riding the buses with and interacting every day. So it isn't like you're putting them on a rocket
ship and sending them off into space never to return again. You take an individual and you bring them inside the penitentiary here and it takes a while to program an individual to survive inside the penitentiary setting. Then you get in here for seven or eight years and then one day they open the door and all of a sudden you're free. Yeah, it was a $50 bill and you think, what do I do? Where do I go? It's a complete different environment. You're stepping into an alien world that you no longer fit in. They're not taking the time to reorientate anyone back. People are going out there for short periods of time and coming right back to the penitentiary. When you look at the breakdown of the prison population, at least half of the population has never finished high school. A large percentage is functionally illiterate. Many people have never had employment and skills are very limited among the prisoners. So many of them
have experienced the life of deprivation and the large percentage of the people behind bars were victims of child abuse and neglect. It may well be that some of them are acting out. They may be unconsciously or unconsciously maybe in defiance against the dehuman situation. They have experienced all the life. It looks like a man's size job. Now many of those men are here just because they had bad breaks. They're not born criminals and we don't want to turn them into criminals. Come on now that you've seen them, we'll let them have a look at you. We better be careful that we don't expect too much from corrections because when I receive a person at San Quentin, he's at the end of the line, not at the beginning. I don't think
it's realistic to think that you send a person to prison to rehabilitate him. I have never rehabilitated anybody. I grew up in a prison system from juvenile institutions, on into adult institutions. I watched changes happen in a penitentiary when all of a sudden everything was sociology. Well, let's go in and we'll try this. It's a controlled environment situation and we'll see how it works. They went through a penitentiary and they painted the walls, all these bright colors because they said that was supposed to cheer you up and everything. All it did was make everyone drove because it was these real sharp angles all down this hallway, a quarter mile of all this dry flash and sharp light. We had more killings in the penitentiary than we ever had. So they said, well, that didn't work. We'll try some paint the walls. Now we'll try a sensory deprivation. We'll put them in dark boxes with nothing in there and put them naked and leave them there for 29 days and then they'll be ready to live
with other people. These were the things that were tried that a lot of us have lived through it. And we think, what are you going to do next to make me fit in your world? Part of our job is to provide a sanction and we do that. Part of our job is to make opportunities available to them. It isn't our job to rehabilitate anybody. That's not corrections job. It's our job, I think, to make the climate, the atmosphere, and the conditions available to someone who wants to habilitate himself or herself, to do something with one's life. That's as far as we can go. I don't think we should be expected to do to heal or to bless or to cleanse or to do anything else. I think that conditions that lead to crime are the conditions in our society. It's very much different than in European societies. For example, there's much less crime and one of the problems here is the gross inequities in the economic structure. The one constant
that all the criminologists have ascertained with crime is that it goes up and down according to the rate of unemployment. Obviously, poverty has some impact on it, but to suggest that poverty is the cause of violent crime and this tremendous increase, I think, is, frankly, nonsense. I've been in prison three times, you know, and I've been on the streets twice. It's hard to get a job, man. It's hard to find employment. They look at your history, all your criminal. You've been in prison for robbery or burglary, whatever it be. You know, it's hard to deal with that, man, because they look at you as a subject, not a person. And we all still are people here, man. We have rights. When you look at the state prison population in California right now, then you will see that at least 65% belongs to the third world. 36% are black, 27% are Latino, and 2 to 4% are Native American and Asians. We in California, we are practicing some kind of an apartheid system
which people don't want to look at, but that is exactly what we are doing. Not many want to talk about it, but given the disproportionate number of minorities in state prisons, the disturbing issue of racism cannot be ignored. People belong in the penitentiary based upon what they have done. That's the only test. Someone's an armed robber, and he belongs in the penitentiary, and it matters not at all whether that person is black, brown, or white. We cannot say that black people or Latinos or Native American people are innately more criminally inclined than white people. So we have to look at some of the underlying causes and reasons why 65% of the population is non-white, and then of course, then we are thinking in terms of the non-white population
not participating in the so-called dream of America. You know, I hold the job down, but as soon as they get to read my files, man, I'm out. I'm fired for some reason. I got three kids, a wife, and you know what, making a minimum wage ain't what's happening. That's all I got from it. I call prisons the ultimate welfare state. We don't like welfare, but some are another we're willing to take people and feed, clothe, give medical care, free medical services, the absolute best, and that's what you can do when you start incarcerating a lot of people. It's an enormous cost, and I think that some states have found themselves having to start to release people early because they can't afford this system. We may be heading for a system in the country. The correction system may replace the welfare system. It may be the new welfare system for the underclass in America, that it has that potential, unless
we really think through what we're doing. Taking stock is a painful business, but as the costs and ineffectiveness of corrections policy arouse debate, the search for a different approach is inevitable. Occasion point, George, where the high costs of prison construction and operations have prompted fundamental change. Georgia searches for alternatives to traditional prison confinement after disillusioning history. As recently as five years ago, Georgia imprisoned more of its citizens per capita than any state
of the Union. Despite an already overcrowded prison system, despite a federal court order that required improvements. The result of putting so many people behind bars was hardly rehabilitation in the traditional sense. Most of the states in the south have been always very conservative relative to what we do with offenders. We have tended to look at prison as one of the primary answers. As a result, I think we had to begin to rethink what we were doing and to provide the judges with some other options other than just basic probation. Special alternative incarceration program is a rather unique approach to prison diversion.
You take a young man between the ages of 19 and 25 who's beginning his criminal career, adult criminal career, and put him on probation. As a special condition of probation, you determine that he is required to serve 90 days in an SAI program. We have one of two located in the state of Georgia here. It's military oriented, basic training. We combine the best of what the military has to offer in terms of military discipline, and also the best of what the prison system has to offer in terms of hard labor. And if he successfully completes the 90-day program, he can return home and serve the remainder of his sentence on probation. If he fails to complete this program satisfactorily, we may recommend revocation to the courts and thus far those we've recommended for revocation have been sent into the regular prison system. The results thus far indicate that approximately 75 to 77 percent of the people that come through this program three years later have not returned to prison. But it's the first
time he's been in prison, fairly short, but it's very intensive. And we give them an opportunity to see the consequences of their behavior so that when they return to society, they can decide whether or not this is the type of work they want to be doing for the rest of their lives. The Griffin DeVersion Senate is one of the many programs options that a judge in Georgia has during his sentence and phase. A judge sends a person in here to go through a process. First of all, the judge deemed that this person crime was too severe for regular probation, but yet still not severe enough to incarcerate him. He gave him a second chance. He has to work. One of the major prerequisite to the interim program is that you've got to be able to work. You see, because the person that sentence here pays for everything that he gets. He pays ruined board at the rate of 45-50 a week. If he has a fine to pay, he pays off that fine. If he has a restitution, he pays that restitution. He has to have a certain
amount of money and savings before we release him. If he has a family at the same home family support, we want to line the gone welfare. You won't be a burden to taxpayers here. You pay taxes just like the average man on the street while in this program. We keep this person productive. Where in a prison, you are just sitting in a cell, you're just doing time. Here, you're doing time, but you're doing productive time. You're working on what we say to building. The building is the person in itself. We are making you do things that's going to make you feel better about yourself to give you a strong positive outlook that you can make it. Intense appropriation is the next most strict form of appropriation that's offered. We've now added a home confinement component to Intense appropriation. These individuals who are placed on home confinement are required to be at home for 24 hours a day for the first three months they're unintensive, except the time that we allow them to be away from home. The program is designed primarily for
moderate risk offenders, if you will, to be assigned to a very strict probation program and thereby allow them to be supervised on the streets rather than go into prison. A very tight curfew is established. We have weekly employment verification, weekly record checks, the local law enforcement is required to make sure that no arrests have occurred. Drug and alcohol screens are taken on periodic basis. The community service is a component of the Intense appropriation and they're required to do 132 hours for the complete Intense appropriation. I will tell them from day one that I know you're not going to like this probation. I know you're not going to like having to abide by these rules and abide by these strict standards, but let's know I don't require that you like it because that would be I think unrealistic, but it reminds them of the fact that had it not been for the existence of this program, they'd be in jail.
The availability now of options ranging from regular probation to a community service as a conditional probation, to intensive probation involving two officers working with a small caseload, to diversion centers, to shock incarceration has really given the judges what we refer to as a cafeteria of sensing options, mid-range punishment options that can in fact punish, control, respond to the victim and also meet the needs and the treatment needs of the offenders that we have in our system. George's promising innovations are driven by the same forces that shape America's larger prison crisis, dangerous overcrowding, federal court intervention, economic necessity. The vast majority of our states are being compelled to seek new ways to respond to crime.
Unlike Georgia, some states continue to follow the policies that largely spawned the prison crisis. Take the case of New Mexico, despite a 1978 federal court order, the Iran consent decree, to reduce the overcrowding that ultimately fostered the bloody riot of 1980, the governor of financially strapped New Mexico vows renewed litigation to fight that court order. That court order came to us after one of the worst prison rights ever in the United States. Now, had we just had a law case and some discussion in the courts and litigation and decided to settle the case out of court, which is a consent decree, and nothing else had happened, I would believe that we would not have agreed to the conditions that we agreed to and ran. That's not accurate historically. The consent decree was under negotiation for several months before the riot ever took place.
There in fact were talks between the state and the convict plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU, and by a federal arbitrator at that point, in the late months of 1979, discussing the specific standards and measures that would be embodied in the decree, the decree really represents no more than the best and most enlightened penal thinking in the country. But the 1980 prison riot up the anning, and it up the anning against society on behalf of the inmates. I think we had collectively a great sense of guilt for what happened in 1980, because the Iran filing was about overcrowding and conditions in the prison. That's what Iran was complaining about, and I think we perhaps collectively decided that we felt guilty, perhaps we ought to give a little more than we should. What we did is define some conditions that do not permit us then as a public to manage the prisons. It's some kind of special concoction that grew up after the riot. It's not the product of bureaucratic guilt. It is, in fact, a distillation of the best and most progressive standards in corrections practices around the country.
Clearly millions, perhaps billions of dollars, have been spent on litigation involving our state's prison conditions, something rarely included in calculations of the costs of corrections. Well, the cost of finding litigation is a concern to New Mexico, it's been difficult to continue the fight simply because it's not easy to overturn something you already agreed to, and consequently we find ourselves in somewhat of a pickle. One of the things that saves us, perhaps, is we change the administration, so in changing the administration at least you can make an argument that we want something different and something new. There only major act has been to pour more money into lawyers to fight the Duran Decree, which is an old and I think full-orn effort. They've even gone to the trouble now to hire a new Washington law firm to try to wage an all-out constitutional battle against the decree, which I think is doomed to failure. We've spent almost two million dollars on attorneys in the last three or four years fighting the Duran Decree. We could have spent that money so much more usefully in programs, and even in developing new policies in the corrections department, rather than trying to fight progress.
The good news is that there are a few states, unfortunately, two few, which seem to be the exceptions to the rule. Minnesota, like other states, it must grapple with crime and corrections. But Minnesota has avoided many of the causes of crisis in other states. I don't want any more prisons. I don't believe that the people who are running our correctional system in this state want more prisons. One thing I've learned, if you build them, you fill them. And you're just spending a disproportionate amount of your state budget for something that really isn't doing the citizens much good. And so we've pursued a somewhat different course on this in Minnesota, and I think it's been a much better one. We are willing and have been, for a long time, to spend some money on each other. And we have a long history of that. Minnesota Corrections Commissioner Orville Pong sees the connection between a state's social services and its corrections programs.
I think where you find a good correction system and let's assume we have a good one in Minnesota, you can go to other areas and find outstanding systems. I think we have the best health care system in the country. We spend more money on education, I think, than any other state. We spend more money on generally human services in Minnesota. So it would be inconsistent to have a poor correction system with all these other systems being recognized, they think, in many ways, as one of the best in the country. More than anything else, how we handle our juvenile offenders may determine the ultimate character of our adult correction systems. At Red Wing, a young offenders last chance in the Minnesota juvenile system, the emphasis is on education and skills as well as corrections. Juvenile offenders in Minnesota go to institutions like Red Wing only as a last resort.
First come community programs like Cotodon in Minneapolis. Cotodon House is one of a large variety of programs that exist in Minnesota that are there to provide the kind of structure and control and toughness. It works very effectively with kids who but for the program might be in a residential program, might even be in a state institution. Minnesota's juvenile release director, Jay Lindgren. Clearly, at least in my experience, that the ultimate turn around comes when a kid finds out or an adult finds out that there's more in it for me to do things right than there is to do the wrong and by in it for me, I mean essential things like how do I support myself, that I can by by holding a job, I can find some kind of meaningful work that gives me the kind of income so that I can feel that I have some dignity. It works very hard to to bring about an education program that's attracted to kids that's based on basics, reading and arithmetic being the two keys and they also use relationships.
The kinds of problems that occur in day-to-day interaction among kids and with kids and adults to be a learning experience, to learn the social skills necessary to to survive and to succeed in the in the larger society. I think what you want to do with juveniles is damage them the least you possibly can. Get them through an experience that they don't leave more bitter, more hostile and more damage than when they came in and I think you want to at least leave them with a good self-concept and a feeling that they can be successful. It's quite an investment with juveniles because if you can there's a lot of money in this business and if you can just defer one kid a year, you can almost save your budget over a lifetime of of corrections and crime. There's a program where convicts go talk to kids in the community at schools and stuff to try to tell to use their head because that's your future convict right there. That's what money is needed to build new penetrates, not to keep us, but for your children.
Probably no American institution is a greater and more costly failure than our prisons. I wrote those words 13 years ago in a time to die, a book about my experiences during the Attica Prison Uprising. We call our prisons a correction system, but neither those who run them nor those who appropriate the money actually believe that prisons achieve much correction, if by that we mean the rehabilitation of offenders. And as we spend billions to build more prisons in order to incarcerate more offenders, can anyone believe that these warehouses of humanity significantly deter crime? Continuing high crime rates speak for themselves.
But we cannot blame prison officials and legislators alone for what we've done to ourselves. As the fear of crime has grown into a panicky political issue in this country, the bureaucrats and the politicians have done just about what we citizens have demanded. We have taken counsel of our fears and embarked upon a dead end journey. It's ironic, a sad commentary that we are beginning to recognize the failure of our prisons because they cost too much. But as prison costs rising out of control threaten other basic programs, including education, perhaps the most effective deterrent to crime, we are being compelled, like it or not, to consider less expensive, possibly more effective ways to deal with crime and punishment. And that there may be hope for more of us than criminals and their victims. This special program was funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
through a grant from the Pacific Mountain Network Program Fund. The preceding on assignment documentary special on America's prison crisis raises deeply troublesome questions. Next week, in an important follow-up, an extraordinarily candid conversation with the recently resigned warden of the New Mexico State Penitentiary, George Sullivan. Prison business will chew you up and spit you out if you don't belong. I hope you will join us. Podcast of on assignment is locally funded by K&ME Viewer Contributions and by a grant from the Mountain Bell Foundation.
On Assignment
Episode Number
Monuments To Failure: America's Prison Crisis
Producing Organization
KNME-TV (Television station : Albuquerque, N.M.)
Contributing Organization
New Mexico PBS (Albuquerque, New Mexico)
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Episode Description
Monuments To Failure: America's Prison Crisis -- A year and a half in the making, Monuments To Failure is a penetrating documentary look at what has been called this nation's "costly failure" ... our state's corrections systems. Shot in California, Minnesota, Texas, Georgia, and New Mexico, Monuments To Failure is narrated by On Assignment special guests host, author, and New York Times columnist, Tom Wicker, one of the negotiators at the Attica prison riot of 1971 (Guests: Tom Wicker, New York Times; Rocky, Inmate, Santa Fe State Penitentiary; Daniel Vasquez, Warden, San Quentin, California Department of Corrections; Orville Pung, Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Corrections; Jerry, Inmate, Santa Fe State Penitentiary; Roger Morris, Journalist Author; Mary Walters, New Mexico Supreme Court Justice; Debra Daily, Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission; Ira Reiner, District Attorney, County of Los Angeles; Robert Presley, State Senator, California Legislature (D); Michael Satris, Attorney; Ray Farabee, State Senator, Texas Legislature (D); William Clements, Governor of Texas; Jan Marenissen, American Friends Criminal Justice Commission; George Sullivan, Former Warden, New Mexico State Pententiary; Garrey Carruthers, Governor of New Mexico; Vince Fallin, Deputy Commissioner, Georgia Department of Corrections; Treutt Goodwin, Warden, Al Burruss Training Center, Georgia; James Fletcher, Director, Griffin Diversion Center; William Larkey, Probation Officer, Coweta Judicial Circuit, Georgia Department of Corrections; Allan Spear, State Senator, Minnesota Legislature (D); Jay Lindgren, Director, Minnesota Juvenile Release Program, Minnesota Department of Corrections). Producers: Hal Rhodes, Dale Kruzic, Matthew Sneddon.
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Guest: Clements, William
Guest: Presley, Robert
Guest: Satris, Michael
Guest: Farabee, Ray
Guest: Carruthers, Garrey
Guest: Sullivan, George
Guest: Marenissen, Jan
Guest: Fallin, Vince
Guest: Vasquez, Daniel
Guest: Wicker, Tom
Guest: Pung, Orville
Guest: Morris, Roger
Guest: Daily, Debra
Guest: Reiner, Ira
Guest: Goodwin, Treutt
Guest: Larkey, William
Guest: Fletcher, James
Guest: Spear, Allan
Guest: Lindgren, Jay
Producer: Sneddon, Matthew
Producer: Kruzic, Dale
Producer: Rhodes, Hal
Producing Organization: KNME-TV (Television station : Albuquerque, N.M.)
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Identifier: cpb-aacip-51256a595fc (Filename)
Format: U-matic
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Chicago: “On Assignment; 2006; Monuments To Failure: America's Prison Crisis,” 1987-11-14, New Mexico PBS, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 29, 2024,
MLA: “On Assignment; 2006; Monuments To Failure: America's Prison Crisis.” 1987-11-14. New Mexico PBS, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 29, 2024. <>.
APA: On Assignment; 2006; Monuments To Failure: America's Prison Crisis. Boston, MA: New Mexico PBS, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from